Rebecca Stead is a master of unsaid and confusing things. You read and read and wonder if you’re missing something, and then a light bulb suddenly flashes ON, and things fall into place. “Ah,” you think, “Now I understand.”
I remember a high school English teacher calling books “challenging” when they were school-district approved classics, incredibly boring, irrelevant or some other thing considered awful by 15-year olds. That’s not what I mean here. Not at all. This might be called juicy-challenging.
You follow the characters – sometimes not even being sure who they are or how they are connected – for pages and pages, and somehow Stead keeps you reading and wondering about them so that their ups and downs hit you almost physically. The confusion becomes suspenseful, mirroring life at those times when everything is painful or exciting or alarming or dramatic or life-changing. You’re constantly wondering. Is this the detail that makes everything make sense? Is that why the character isn’t being nice?
I can be kind of a gusher about Rebecca Stead’s work. After being confused for large portions of When You Reach Me (but still loving it), I found First Light and went on to Liar & Spy. A lot of life when you’re young feels suspenseful, as if it’s all a sometimes unsettling wait for the next thing to happen. As one character describes it in the book, “Life was a too-tall stack of books that had started to lean to one side, and each new day was another book on top.”
There are a lot of characters to love in Goodbye Stranger, even the unnamed ones, and that sometimes adds to the confusion, because in the constantly shifting life of teenagers, not everyone is always a good guy, a bad girl, the drama geek or the smart one. One day you might be one thing; the next, another. Rebecca Stead captures that time in all of its imperfect, upsetting glory. Read this one.